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Jordan Quietly Moving Forward

July 27, 2011

While much media attention has been on Libya, Syria, and Egypt, Jordan has been on a slow simmer since protests began across the Middle East. 

From January 2011 to the present, processions, demonstrations, and sit-in strikes have been held every Friday throughout Jordan, demanding political reforms in the country. The protests, inspired by the wave of popular uprisings and revolutions that have swept through the Arab world over recent months, have been organized and led primarily by the Islamic Movement. Leftist organizations, trade unions, and recently established youth movements, among others, have taken part in the protests.

Protestors in Jordan called for the implementation of political and economic reforms and for the restoration of the Jordanian constitution to its original version ratified in 1952 – in other words, the revocation of some 30 amendments made since then to expand the authority of the king and government at the parliament’s expense. They also called for the disbanding of the current parliament, for a new modern elections law, for the formation of government via majority vote in the parliament, rather than by royal appointment, and for the prosecution of politicians implicated in corruption.

In addition, calls have occasionally been heard for the establishment of a true constitutional monarchy in Jordan in which the authority of the throne would be reduced to no more than a national symbol.

It appears that King ‘Abdallah and his ministers have been quietly working with their opposition.

Two days later, the king made an unprecedented move when, for the first time since coming to power in 1999, he met with a delegation of Jordan’s Islamic Movement, headed by Hamam Sa’id, general guide of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan [Emph. mine-ed.] At the meeting, the king reiterated his serious intent to implement sweeping political reforms.

[…]

Since February 2011, King ‘Abdullah and his regime have made visible efforts to focus media attention on the reforms expected in Jordan. In almost every recent speech, interview, and press statement, the king, prime minister, and other senior regime officials could be heard discussing the longed-for reforms.  In his February 21 speech, King ‘Abdallah stressed his intent to enact comprehensive political, economic, and social reforms that would include fighting corruption, holding new elections, instating party laws, and promoting greater youth involvement in politics.

In the background, it is always good to remember that the Muslim Brotherhood can represent themselves by different names, but they are still the Muslim Brotherhood, committed to Islam and Shari’ah.  King ‘Abdullah is obviously interested in maintaining his own power, and safety, and so it will be interesting to watch how far he is willing to go in these negotiations.

Over recent months, there has been a noticeable change in the Jordanian regime’s stance vis-à-vis the opposition’s chief demands for the disbanding of parliament, for a new elections law, and for the restoration of the 1952 draft of the Jordanian constitution. Whereas merely a few months ago, regime officials openly resisted these demands, it would seem that they will now be at the center of the regime’s reform initiative. The regime has also capitulated to the opposition’s demand that the government and its prime minister be elected by parliamentary majority rather than by appointment by the king. In a June 12, 2011 address, King ‘Abdallah said that in the future, the government would be established by parliamentary vote, although he refrained from specifying when the new system would be instated.

As with all politicians, King Abdullah is beginning to hedge his bets.  For the sake of freedom, I hope that the King is committed to reforming the government to the benefit of the Jordanian people.  Unfortunately, as with all recent developments in the Mideast, the involvement of the Muslim Brotherhood is a worrisome one.

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